In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Dear brothers and sisters!
The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Nativity of Mary, or the Birth of the Virgin Mary, refers to a Christian feast day celebrating the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This first of feasts, celebrated on the eighth day of the New Church Year, was certainly preceded by great longing and expectation.
The canon of scripture does not record Mary's birth. The earliest known account of Mary's birth is found in the Protoevangelium of James (5:2), an apocryphal text from the late second century, with her parents known as Saint Anne and Saint Joachim. The couple was without child, since Saint Anna was barren.
Having reached old age, Joachim and Anna did not lose hope in God’s mercy. They had strong faith that for God everything is possible, and that He would be able to overcome the barrenness of Anna even in her old age, as He had once overcame the barrenness of Sarah, spouse of the Patriarch Abraham. Saints Joachim and Anna vowed to dedicate the child which the Lord might give them, to the service of God in the Temple.
Childlessness was considered among the Hebrew nation as a Divine punishment for sin, and therefore the righteous Saints Joachim and Anna had to endure abuse from their own countrymen. On one of the feastdays at the Temple in Jerusalem the elderly Joachim brought his sacrifice to offer to God, but the High Priest would not accept it, considering him to be unworthy since he was childless.
Saint Joachim in deep grief went into the wilderness, and there he prayed with tears to the Lord for a child. Saint Anna wept bitterly when she learned what had happened at the Jerusalem Temple. Never once did she complain against the Lord, but rather she prayed to ask God’s mercy on her family.
The Lord fulfilled her petitions when the pious couple had attained to extreme old age and prepared themselves by virtuous life for a sublime calling: to be the parents of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, the future Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Archangel Gabriel brought Joachim and Anna the joyous message that their prayers were heard by God, and of them would be born a most blessed daughter Mary, through Whom would come the Salvation of all the World.
The child of Joachim and Anna was chosen before the ages by Divine Providence, was born of an aged woman thought to be barren, was offered as a pure sacrifice to God by her parents, was brought into the temple and preserved and nourished by the angelic hosts until her coming of age, entrusted to the aged Joseph, and then mystically conceived the Incarnate Word in her virginal womb.
Her Nativity represents a critical moment in the history of the universe, her birth represents the coming of the fullness of time, the end of the Old Law and the sounding forth of the first notes of the melody of the New Law, the Law of Love and salvation through Grace.
On the eve of the feast, Vespers is served and contains three Old Testament readings that have New Testament meaning. In Genesis 28, 10-17, Jacob's Ladder which unites heaven and earth points to the union of God with men which is realized most fully and perfectly in Mary the bearer of God. "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!" In Ezekiel 43, 27-44, 4, the vision of the temple with the door to the East perpetually closed and filled with the glory of the Lord, symbolizes Mary. And in Proverbs 9, 1-11, Mary is also identified with the "house" which the Divine Wisdom has built for herself.
Divine Liturgy is served on the day on the feast. The epistle reading is from Philippians 2, 5-11, and speaks of "Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men". The gospel reading is taken from Luke 10, 38-42 and 11, 27-28 together; this reading is also always read on all feasts of the Theotokos. In it, the Lord says, "blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"
The liturgy rejoices in the Nativity of the Mother of God with hymns and chants of deeply spiritual and poetic character. The chant sung at Vespers of this Feast summarizes the Church’s thinking about this event. “Indeed, some famous barren women have given birth by the will of God. But the birth of Mary surpasses all births in honor and splendor, as is worthy of the majesty of God. She was born of a barren mother in a miraculous way. Mary herself gave birth in the flesh to the God of All, incarnate in her womb without human seed, against the laws of nature…” The liturgy calls us to praise and worship God in His wondrous presence in our lives.
From the time of the Apostles and through the centuries, Eastern Christians have devoted themselves and their talents to the Mother of God, the Gate of our Salvation. Hymnographers have composed new hymns, canons, and Akathists to her, Iconographers have created a multitude of types, each expressing something slightly different about the Mother of God, her life on earth and her intervention into human life through miracles and appearances. Many have built great temples and whole monasteries in her honor. Out of devotion saints have written their own private prayers and songs to the Mother of God, asking her to take them under her saving omophorion and bring them into the Heavenly Kingdom. Our song of devotion should be our very life. Let us ask the Mother of God to take us and plant us in her little garden, even if we seem to be the worst of weeds, so that she can tend to us and guide us on the way to Heaven. Amen.
Fr. Myroslav Dumych